By Harry Scoffin
The media spotlight returned to the leasehold scandal over the weekend, with both Sky News and the BBC reporting on the nearly 300 house lessees in the north-west clubbing together to buy out their landlords.
As leaseholders of houses can enfranchise individually, unlike flat lessees, this collective bid for the freeholds – orchestrated by LKP trustee and Leasehold Solutions head Louie Burns – is being watched closely.
It was the subject of an article in The Times earlier this month:
Families challenge Long Harbour for freeholds to Bellway leasehold houses, The Times reports
The freeholders have two months to respond to the legal notice. If challenged, the claim will go through the property tribunal system.
It is expected to take around a year for the leaseholders to gain the freeholds.
Paul Lewis, of BBC Radio 4’s Moneybox, said the leaseholders in this case are “up against a wealthy group of investors who have bought up thousands of freeholds and have an annual income stream from them”.
He said that the challenge “comes down to price, just what is a fair price for a freehold of house you’ve already bought?”
The programme heard that the leaseholders, which include National Leasehold Campaign co-founder and LKP trustee Katie Kendrick, have opted to forcibly buy their freeholds.
Speaking to MoneyBox, Ms Kendrick said that she has lost three years of her life to campaigning against the unfairness of residential leasehold tenure.
People have contacted her because they have wanted to end their own life over this, she added.
Long Harbour, which holds some of the freeholds set to be compulsorily purchased through enfranchisement, said in a statement that they “fully support the right of leaseholders to buy the freehold on their homes and recognise the difficulty that some owners are in,” adding that it “purchased the freeholds in good faith” and are “committed to putting this right”.
The ground rent fund also said that they will be offering leaseholders “a fair price to buy their freeholds” at a value they say they are “confident” is below anything that can be achieved at tribunal.
Mr Burns, whose firm Leasehold Solutions is coordinating the effort, welcomed the statement, saying that Long Harbour could then “roll out” the agreement struck with his 240 house lessees, helping those in other leasehold houses owned by the ground rent fund.
“But if we do end up going to tribunal, we are very keen to set a rate for everyone else that will follow that is fair,” he warned.
Following Moneybox’s Saturday feature, the story of the “campaigners caught up in a so-called leasehold trap taking mass legal action for the first time” was given an airing by Sky News yesterday, with its report put on repeat by the news channel, playing throughout the day.
Sky News presenters were careful to stress beforehand that “a leasehold only gives you exclusive ownership of the rights to occupy the property for the length of the lease.”
“I want to own the property that I am paying a mortgage for. It doesn’t sit right with me, and it gives me many sleepless nights, that somebody else actually owns my property,” Ms Kendrick said at the start of the package.
Sky News correspondent Ali Fortescue framed leasehold as a consumer issue, saying that Ms Kendrick had been told that she would be able to easily buy her freehold, only for it to be “sold to a big investment company” without her knowledge “who have now quoted her three times the price to buy it outright.”
In language familiar to LKP, Ms Fortescue explained that “leaseholds are essentially long-term tenancies, they’re controversial and almost unique to England and Wales.”
“At a time of valuable ground rent incomes, this murky corner of the property market means professional landowners can reap the rewards while the leaseholder pays the bills.”
Mr Burns also made an appearance, citing the fee-generating covenants in people’s leases.
He said he knows of house lessees who have made to pay £5,000 just to obtain permission to have a conservatory built in their gardens.
Ms Fortescue ended her report saying that the fight against the system has been likened to a “David and Goliath battle”, with leaseholds “a lucrative business for investors and people like Katie are struggling to fight for the right to own their home.”
The National Leasehold Campaign has told LKP that hundreds of new members have joined them because of Sky News.
The weekend of coverage was capped off by a “market watch” piece in the Sunday Times on spiralling service charges and unregulated managing agents, featuring comment from LKP’s Sebastian O’Kelly.
Sebastian O’Kelly, chairman of the campaign group the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, points out that it is in the commercial interest of these firms for homeowners to be as disunited as possible. “One way of doing that is to make sure the leaseholders don’t have any power,” he says, “but every residential block should have a residents’ management company. It should be mandatory.”
One leaseholder in Bow told the paper that she has been forced to sell her flat because of repeated service charge hikes, despite having no mortgage to pay for.
Her costs have gone from £3,000 to £5,000 since 2014.
“I don’t even know what they do with it,” she says. “I asked about window cleaning once, and they said that was up to individual leaseholders — even though we live in high-rise blocks.”
The article can be found here:
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